Coyotes trade deadline primer: Adding context to the rumor mill
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes general manager John Chayka threw a bucket of cold water on all that trade talk swirling around the Coyotes.
“I think if people are expecting us to be major players at the trade deadline they may be disappointed,” Chayka said a week before Monday’s trade deadline.
Was it a ploy to drive up the price on the players he is looking to move, or was it an acknowledgment of the team’s current situation and the current state of the trade market?
At the Feb. 26 NHL Trade Deadline, the prevailing read from league executives and analysts is a large supply of players available and only a few teams certain they will be buyers.
More than half of the league is on the playoff bubble.
“Demand is limited by so many bubble teams,” one NHL executive said. “Now, there could be some game theory. Once one bubble team makes a move, the others don’t want to be left out. As of now, those bubble teams don’t want to make a move and then miss the playoffs.”
Chayka said two weeks ago that with the team’s improved play of late, there is a growing sentiment to make only minor tweaks — to leave things alone and see how the team develops over the season’s final seven weeks.
That said, Chayka acknowledged that he is willing to listen to offers on just about any player if a move makes the team significantly better. The only two untouchables at the deadline are defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and forward Clayton Keller.
Here are some players to watch in the final hours before the trade deadline.
Goalie Antti Raanta
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent (UFA) after this season.
Why he might be traded: He is a free agent at the end of the season. If Chayka does not feel he can re-sign him, or if he feels the term is too long on Raanta’s contract demands, he’ll have to move him for assets. Raanta has helped his value since the new year began. He is 8-4-3 in his past 15 games (14 starts). He has stopped 428 of 459 shots in those games for a .932 save percentage. Among goalies who have logged at least 30 games (a fair threshold at this stage of the season), Raanta is tied for fifth in the NHL with a .923 save percentage.
Why he might not be traded: The Coyotes need a No. 1 goalie. Their top prospects, Adin Hill, Hunter Miska and perhaps Merrick Madsen, are not ready to assume that role, and probably not even ready to jump to the NHL. Raanta’s value has been obvious in the team’s play in January and February so the team will make every effort to keep him. There isn’t a great market for goalies among playoff contenders. Philadelphia just acquired Peter Mrazek from Detroit to replace the injured Brian Elliott, leaving perhaps the New York Islanders as the only team that may need a goalie.
Raanta’s take: “It’s not in my corner right now. I just try to play as good as possible right now. We’ll see what the future has but I have always said it has been an awesome opportunity for me. The way we are playing right now, it’s been awesome to be a part of that working process. It’s not only about me and what I want to do. It’s the guys that make the decisions, too, but I have loved my time here and when you’re winning it’s even more fun. Hopefully, the big guns can work out something for the future.”
Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson
Contract status: Signed through 2018-19 ($4.1 million cap hit).
Why he might be traded: He won three Stanley Cups with Chicago. He’s a lockdown defender with veteran savvy and 128 games of playoff experience. He has a year left on his contract, which could make him more attractive to teams in search of blue line upgrades. He has also rediscovered his elite defensive game.
Why he might not be traded: Chayka waited half a season to see the blue line he built in the summer come together. Now that the unit is healthy, Chayka likes what he sees. The Coyotes back end is solid. Why mess with it, and why move a player who means so much to franchise defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson? Hjalmarsson’s work habits and quiet, business-like approach are good teaching tools for the Coyotes’ young lineup.
Hjalmarsson’s take: “I just want to play well on the ice and that is pretty much the only focus I am going to have. Obviously, the trade happened in Chicago and I understand the business side of it now that I have been in the league for a while so I think it’s easier to deal with it and understand it. It’s nothing that I’m too stressed about but I would love to still be a part of this team. We’ve been playing much better and I’m having a lot of fun here. It feels like we’re getting something to build off as of late.”
Center Brad Richardson
Contract status: UFA after this season.
Why he might be traded: He’ll be a free agent after the season. Richardson could help a team that needs depth at center, speed and penalty-killing help. He’s also an underrated locker room presence, a guy who has the ability to keep the mood light.
Why he might not be traded: The Coyotes center depth is already lacking. Why move another piece unless they’re certain they could re-sign him. Why move a guy who acts as glue in the locker room?
Richardson’s take: “You’d like to say, ‘oh, you’ll just re-sign in the offseason after you get traded, but things change. You may play really good on another team, or this team wants to go another direction, or you don’t want to come back, or you get better offers or a different city you want to go to — you never know what’s going to happen. I’ve still got my legs and I still feel I can contribute to a team so we’ll see what happens. I like it here, I like the guys, I’d like to stay here.”
Forward Tobias Rieder
(Editor’s note: Rieder and goalie Scott Wedgewood were dealt to the Los Angeles Kings five days before the trade deadline for backup goalie Darcy Kuemper).
Contract status: Restricted free agent (RFA) after this season.
Why he was traded: For most of this season, Rieder hasn’t meshed well with coach Rick Tocchet’s style of play. After protracted contract negotiations two seasons ago, Rieder may have need a fresh start. He still has value as a depth player because he brings speed, penalty-killing prowess and responsible defensive play.
Why he would not have been traded: The latter qualities. Chayka liked the minutes Rieder ate up and the roles he filled. As an RFA with limited offensive production (eight goals, 19 points), he had little contract leverage. Rieder’s game rounded into shape this month and he was getting power-play time now. He may have figured out what Tocchet wanted and he was absolutely an NHL player who can help a roster.
Rieder’s take: “There’s not a whole lot you can do. You just think to yourself, ‘do the things you can control’ and with everything else, it either happens or it doesn’t happen. It’s probably a little easier said than done but you just have to shut your mind off and focus on hockey.”
Forward Max Domi
Contract status: RFA after this season.
Why he might be traded: Domi has had a down year and teams that are looking to add young players may want to give him a look. As an RFA, Domi’s contract talks could get interesting. He will bring his first two seasons to the table, the Coyotes will counter with this season’s (current) four-goal total.
Why he might not be traded: Domi’s trade value has dropped. Teams may think they can pry Domi loose for less than what Chayka considers fair value, but Chayka is not taking the same approach with Domi as he did with Anthony Duclair, a player the Coyotes felt did not fit their culture. “Max is a good young player,” Chayka said. “We’re building our team around good young players.”
Domi’s take: “John’s going to do what he thinks is best and that’s totally out of my control. I have no say in what’s going to happen, but I don’t want to leave. I enjoy playing here. I haven’t had a great year so if it does happen, that’s on me.”
Defenseman Luke Schenn
Contract status: UFA after this season.
Why he might be traded: He is on an expiring contract and lots of teams want help on their blue line, whether it’s top-four or depth help. He has been a healthy scratch the past nine games because Kevin Connauton has been producing offense. Schenn’s prorated $1.25 million deal would be easy to absorb.
Why he might not be traded: The Coyotes could move Connauton instead, leaving a need for a sixth defenseman. With his limited play, Schenn may not fetch much on the market, making the move illogical.
Schenn’s take: “I’d love to stay but you’re open to all possibilities at this time.”
Defenseman Kevin Connauton
Contract status: UFA after this season
Why he might be traded: He is also on an expiring contract and lots of teams want blue line help, whether it’s top-four or depth help. Connauton has been on a run with four goals in February. His trade value may have climbed a notch. His prorated $1 million deal would be easy to absorb.
Why he might not be traded: The Coyotes could move Schenn instead, leaving a need for a depth defenseman. Like Schenn, Connauton may not fetch much on the market.
Connauton’s take: “If you don’t at least have it in the back of your mind that it’s something you have to prepare yourself for, you’re not being honest. You just wait and see what happens but don’t do anything different. If a team likes you and they want you, they’ll keep you around. If they figure something out that they feel is going to better their team in the long run, they’re going to do it. That’s for the guys in the back room to decide. I’ve been traded before, waived before, so it’s something that I know how to handle if it happens, but for me, I want to be here and I want to play here. I feel good now. I feel confident that I’m really getting back to the player that I am.”
Forward Zac Rinaldo
Contract status: UFA after this season.
Why he might be traded: He is on an expiring contract. If teams want to add grit and a physical presence, Rinaldo can add those qualities and be an agitator.
Why he might not be traded: Rinaldo is a Tocchet favorite and the two have developed a good relationship because they see the game similarly. Tocchet also likes the impact the vocal Rinaldo has on the younger players. The Coyotes wouldn’t get much for Rinaldo at the deadline so his future might be something they’d rather assess in the summer.
Rinaldo’s take: “I don’t think about it, but at the end of the day I know this is a business and we’re all professionals so if it happens it happens. You just roll with the punches.”
Forward Jordan Martinook
Contract status: Signed through 2018-19 ($1.8 million cap hit)
Why he might be traded: Martinook was a favorite of former coach Dave Tippett, but like Rieder, he took time to adjust to Tocchet’s style. If teams are looking for help on the penalty-killing unit or for speed and depth, Martinook could be an attractive piece. He plays hard.
Why he might not be traded: The Coyotes fourth line has been excellent in the new year and Martinook has developed good chemistry with Richardson and Nick Cousins. Again, what could the Coyotes that would make moving a cost-controlled, depth player worthwhile?
Others to watch: Cousins (one year left at $1 million), forward Richard Panik (one year left at $2.8 million),
goalie Scott Wedgewood (RFA).
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